Thought Leader insights and industry developments and examples show where sustainable packaging is headed in 2012. 

by Rick Lingle, Editor in Chief

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The packaging landscape has been “greened” the past years by consumer packaged goods companies (CPGCs) making sustainability improvements, initiative by initiative and packaged product by packaged product.  These changes have been made for a number of reasons including meeting internal goals, meeting external expectations and/or cutting costs.

“Companies place a high degree of focus and effort on sustainability,” offers Pat Conroy, vice chairman and U.S. Consumer Products leader at consultancy Deloitte LLP (www.deloitte.com). “Everybody is for sustainability, but the question is how to make it commercially neutral so companies don’t have to risk the cost premium. Many companies view sustainability as a means to be more efficient and less wasteful, which translates to lower costs and better margins. Sustainability is the right thing to do, but it will also be fiscally rewarding for companies that can figure it out. My advice: Couple sustainability efforts with emerging consumer preferences so you don’t miss the target and waste effort.”

Consumer purchasing decisions increasingly have a green component, according to Suley Muratoglu, a VP, marketing & product management for Tetra Pak, Inc. (www.tetrapak.com). He cites 2010 “Greendex” research from National Geographic and GlobeScan indicating that 40% of individuals across 17 countries reported avoiding excessively packaged goods “all” or “most of the time.” And recent data from Tetra Pak’s “Environmental Research 2011” survey shows that 88% of consumers in 10 countries expressed a preference for products in recyclable packaging. In the United States, some 70% of consumers said they are willing to buy a green product if the quality is the same as a non-green alternative.    

“As consumers expand their knowledge on issues pertaining to sustainability, there is the growing sense of responsibility when it comes to their purchases and the impact these purchases have on the environment,” Muratoglu points out.

Denise Lefebvre, PepsiCo’s VP, global beverage packaging, puts sustainability at the top of the company’s packaging checklist. “Sustainability is critical: Consumers understand it and want it,” she says. “It is incorporated into everything that we do from a design perspective and is a target criterion in our stage-gate processes for how we advance projects forward. We also focus our research efforts in technology platforms that can take us to a breakthrough level on sustainability. What technologies can we identify that are going to make our business across PepsiCo significantly different globally in sustainability and carbon footprint reduction?”

Other CPGC’s are doing likewise. In mid-December, Coca-Cola Co. unveiled multi-million dollar partnership agreements with three major biotechnology companies to accelerate the development of the first commercial solutions for next-generation PlantBottle™ packaging made 100% from plant-based materials. This effort builds on the company’s ground-breaking introduction and roll-out of its first generation PlantBottle™, the first ever recyclable PET beverage bottle made partially from plants. Since it was introduced in 2009, the Coca-Cola Co. has distributed more than 10 billion PlantBottle packages in 20 countries worldwide.

The PlantBottle uses at least two of the six key paths-the 6 Rs-that packagers follow in their pursuit of green (see sidebar below).

For packaging managers like Hormel Foods’ Chad Donnicht, research & development packaging scientist, packaging sustainability efforts focus on one particular R: Reduce via source reduction. The company’s seven-member packaging group has an individual goal of cutting packaging by 500,000 pounds yearly  and a collective goal of cutting four million pounds yearly.

The program, which has been in place for several years, includes targets of all sizes. “There is quite a bit of savings out there in those small things that many don’t pay much attention to including sealing tape, slip sheets, and pallets,” he says. “It all adds up.” A prime example is a recent project by Hormel subsidiary Don Miguel.

Deloitte’s Conroy is seeing sustainability spill over from the containers and packages side into operations. He cites PepsiCo Frito-Lay as exemplary, particularly the 180,000-square foot, completely green facility in Casa Grande outside Phoenix. The revamped facility operates primarily on renewable energy sources and recycled water, while producing nearly zero landfill waste.

Other CPGCs including General Mills, Nestlé Purina, Mars and Hormel Foods have built or revamped plants that have earned U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification as sustainable facilities. With these and other projects, sustainability is brought to the packaging production floor where machinery vendors, too, have addressed sustainability through machine design and components including human-machine interfaces that track machinery energy usage. Reductions in air and, especially, water requirements are also addressed. For example,  in 2010 after 18 months’ development, Ossid (www.ossid.com), powered by Pro Mach (www.promachinc.com), introduced a low-cost water recirculation system add-on that cools overwrappers with as little as one gallon of water per day, saving in excess of  375,000 gallons of water yearly. Allpax Products (www.allpax.com), powered by Pro Mach, now offers a waste-steam recovery system for retorts that is designed to lower energy costs, reduce consumption of water, and improve the overall sustainability of the facility.

In another example, System Plast (www.systemplast.com) supplies conveyors that require no external lubricants and eliminate the need for water and soap lubrication. The vendor reports that it is possible using a dry lubricant system to save up to 80% of water usage when compared to wet lubrication.

Machinery hardware and software

Automation expert John Kowal, market development manager for B&R Industrial Automation (www.br-automation.com) says the OMAC Packaging Workgroup seeks volunteers for PackAbility, which will be the group’s sustainability initiative. The goal is for OMAC PackAbility to formulate practical metrics based on ISO 50001, he notes. Released in June 2011, the ISO International Standard ISO 50001 on energy management systems was an eagerly awaited event that could have a positive impact on 60% of the world’s energy use. Notably, the Package Machinery Manufacturers Institute (www.PMMI.org) is on the ISO 50001 committee.

“Every improvement we make to productivity has an impact on the other aspects,” says Kowal. “A safer machine has more uptime, therefore has better Overall Equipment Effectiveness. Better OEE means it is running at steady state and is more energy efficient and has lower total system carbon footprint. That uptime translates to more quality product produced and less scrap, which is also more sustainable. And cost is optimized.

“This is important to corporate sustainability initiatives because even though there’s more to be gained from optimizing packages and materials, companies have ambitious goals for reducing energy, water, compressed air, plus  zero landfill-and if packaging machinery can contribute a few percentages here and there, it adds up.”

Benchmarking is as crucial on the machinery side as on the materials side. Barry Lynch, global industry manager, consumer packaged goods, GE Intelligent Platforms (www.ge-ip.com) has conducted “treasure hunts” for efficiency savings at production facilities. He sees automated data acquisition as the ideal way to capture production metrics. “Packaging is one of those areas where you can see immediate benefits in sustainability,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is get manufacturers to treat utility costs as a Bill of Materials so that’s part of the cost of making-and packaging-a product that you can put a dollar value against. That’s why benchmarking is so important, to understand what it costs to make these products and what is the impact if something is changed such as a carton? Manufacturers want to know how much it cost to manufacture that product, literally at the end of the day.”

Not only should savvy packagers try to gain a picture of their day-to-day sustainability on the production side, they also need to look far ahead on the materials and containers side, according to Tetra Pak’s Muratoglu. “It’s not enough to plan and design five years ahead,” he says. “The ongoing challenge packagers will face year-over-year is to understand the way we live today and translate those learnings to how we will live 20 years from now.”

Considering the 6 Rs of sustainability, there may be a 7th that provides an overarching one as packagers transition into a future that is turning an ever-deeper shade of green: Rethink.

The Six Rs of sustainability

An easy-to-remember mantra for sustainability strategies has long been the 3 Rs:

• Reduce • Reuse • Recycle

I have discovered that there are more, in fact twice as many.

During a fall interview, H.J. Heinz Co.’s Michael Okoroafor, VP, Global Packaging Innovation and Execution, told me of a 4th R that Heinz follows related to sustainability: Renew, as in PlantBottle™ technology and other renewable materials Heinz uses for ketchup and other products.

“Depending on which product we’re delivering, we leverage some or all of [the Rs],” he said.

In a December interview, ConAgra Foods’ Gail Tavill, VP, Sustainable Development, told me of a 5th R: Remove. Isn’t that just an extreme form of Reduce? “No, remove is a whole different strategy,” she said. “We’ve had situations where we removed overwraps or bits of packaging that were unnecessary.”

That covered things for about a month, until I had an early 2012 chitchat with bioplastics expert Jeff Timm of Timm Consulting (www.linkedin.com/in/jefftimm). As we talked about bioplastics and sustainability and the 5 Rs I had identified, Timm offered a 6th: Replace, which of course means substituting one material or structure for another. Replace requires different strategies and tactics versus the other five.

If you have any comments or know of any more,  please email me at lingler@bnpmedia


An update on the Package Recovery Labeling System

According to senior manager Anne Bedarf, GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) will be piloting the Packaging Recovery Labeling System (PRLS) in 2012.

The PRLS is intended to reduce the confusion of recycling-related labels and icons on many packages using a clear and harmonized label format. The PTLS improves the reliability, completeness, and transparency of recyclability claims through a nationally relevant recycling data set for all packaging materials and forms.

Currently five SPC members including ConAgra Foods and Costco have committed to piloting the label on select packaging, with more to be announced in early 2012. During the pilot period, information will be collected on consumer response and behavior.

“The main challenge for those companies interested in piloting the label has been timing,” Bedarf informs Food & Beverage Packaging. “Adding a label during a scheduled refresh is ideal, but that timeframe has not always meshed with that of the pilot. Over 2012, we will analyze results from the pilot as well as develop the business model for expanded implementation of the PRLS that we envision to occur in 2013.”

She says the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

For further information, contact Anne Bedarf through the www.how2recycle.info website.


Sustainable packaging predictions for 2012

We asked Robert L. Lilienfeld, of Use-less-stuff.com, to dust off his “green crystal ball” and offer his sustainable packaging prognostication for the year:

Energy Recovery – With Waste Management moving from building landfills to mining them, energy recovery (i.e, “waste to energy”) from food scraps, paper and plastic will finally start being broadly accepted.

Biopolymers – Growing awareness that compostability and biodegradability are largely technical labels, rather than actual recycling options, will put a damper on biopolymer growth.

Extended Package/Producer Responsibility – With increased acceptance of energy recovery as a recycling option, EPR pressures should begin to decline. This is very much in line with the history of the German Green Dot program.

Waste Reduction – As the material-neutral AMERIPEN organization ramps up its efforts, it will do what the material-focused trade associations can’t: promote the fact that sustainable packaging-regardless of whether it is paper, plastic, glass or metal-reduces waste.

Value Chain Perspective –ITW’s Sustainable Packaging Group is a pioneer in the quest to deliver large scale, value chain-wide material and energy savings. Look for other industry leaders, like Sealed Air, to follow. It just makes good business sense.


Greening reaches beyond secondary packaging

Hormel Foods completed a recent source reduction at subsidiary Don Miguel, Dallas, TX, that demonstrates how deeply companies are drilling down to pare packaging materials from the supply chain even beyond primary and secondary packaging.

According to Chad Donnicht, Hormel Foods’ research & development packaging scientist, this project involved a switch to solid fiber-board slip sheets from the previous corrugate slip sheets that were used between layers on pallet loads of product.

“They did quite a bit of testing to qualify fiberboard slip sheets that would be at parity for the same attributes as the corrugate slip sheets,” explains Donnicht, who served as a corporate-level sounding board for the work done by the Don Miguel staff.  Kicked off in early 2011, the project was competed last summer.

Donnicht says that change saves about 280,000 pounds of fiber yearly.


AMERIPEN writes a new chapter in sustainability

The American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (www.ameripen.org) is a “North American organization to advocate for the packaging value chain with a ‘material neutral’ perspective.” Formed in early 2011, the 24 member companies include Amcor, Kellogg Co., Owens-Illinois, Procter & Gamble, Waste Management and others. AMERIPEN’s new president, Gail Tavill, ConAgra Foods’ VP, Sustainable Development, offers these comments about AMERIPEN’s role and its goals through three Technical Advisory Groups. TAGs comprise academic, government, non-governmental and broad-based trade association leaders that assess industry issues in a data-driven, scientific way:

1. To truly define and communicate the value of packaging in terms of what role does this industry play in our economy and society and food safety and food accessibility. “There’s a whole work stream going on around that. We’re working with the Census Bureau, the Department of Commerce on collecting better data around our industry.”

2. A deep-dive analysis of the effectiveness and various financing models for end-of-life recovery and recycling.  “This TAG assesses what works and what doesn’t from both an economic and an efficiency standpoint. We’re really trying to build up the base of understanding of some of those policies and options based on their fundamental costs and efficiencies so that we can then form a position on individual tactics and strategies.”

3.  Assessing a strategy and a philosophy to improve the recovery rate of used packaging material.  “This group has a big task in terms of looking at infrastructure, the complexity of materials, what to do with materials that are recovered and identify the different methods of dealing with recovered materials whether it be energy recovery or recovery for recycling or composting,”


Bagged cereal milks green beyond being box-less

Sally’s brand cereal, the first Malt-O-Meal brand available in Canada and now moving into the U.S. in early 2012, starts off being green by its box-less, resealable bagged format. But the sustainability doesn’t stop there: Malt-O-Meal also purchases wind energy credits to offset 100% of the electricity used in the products’ manufacturing. And in partnership with TerraCycle® Canada (www.terracycle.ca), an international upcycling company that takes packaging materials that can’t be recycled and repurposes that material into new, high quality goods, consumers can collect empty cereal bags and send them to TerraCycle for upcycling.